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On This Day (31 Aug 1946): Football returns to Roker Park after seven-year break for WW2

After a war-enforced seven-year break, the Roker Roar got Sunderland over the line against Derby County.

Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Yesterday, Chris wrote about the first game back after the First World War and the abandonment of league action after the beginning of the Second World War. And, on this day in 1946, football returned after a seven-year, war-enforced absence as almost 50,000 people (officially!) crammed into Roker Park to celebrate as Sunderland took on Derby County.

While war-time leagues did take place during this time (incidentally giving Jackie Milburn the opportunity to turn out for his red and white boyhood favourites) this was the first ‘competitive’ game to take place since Sunderland took on Arsenal at Highbury in August 1939.

Of course, the war had ended in November 1945, and the time that followed enabled players to get back to some normality and sort out playing arrangements for the season to come.

Many players served during the war, and regardless of whether they had or not, they’d been robbed of seven years of their careers.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth presenting the cup to Raich Carter, the Sunderland captain after his team’s victory at Wembley in 1937
Only two years after lifting the FA Cup, Carter was robbed of his career’s prime years
Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This was presumably at the forefront of Raich Carter’s mind. The Sunderland captain had lifted the FA Cup only two years before war was declared, and was aged 25 when Sunderland took on Arsenal.

On this day in 1946, Carter returned to Roker Park, now aged 32. Unfortunately, he was wearing the colours of Derby County, after Sunderland had rejected his request for a new 10-year contract and the Rams bought him for £6000 at the end of 1945.

He had signed in time to play in the 1946 FA Cup competition, and went on to win the cup in a 4-1 extra time victory over Charlton. In doing so he became the only player to win cup winners medals pre and post WW2.

While Carter was making his league debut for County, remarkably, considering the seven-year hiatus, only three players made their league debuts for Sunderland that day: Fred Hall, a defender signed from Blackburn, 21-year-old youth prospect Stan Lloyd, and midfielder Willie Watson, who went on to play more than 200 games for the club – and became a dual international playing both football and cricket for England.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland Training
Willie Watson training at Roker
Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland: Mapson, Stelling, Jones, Willingham, Hall, Housam, Duns, Lloyd, Whielum, Watson, Burbanks.

Derby: Woodley, Nicholas, Howe, Bullions, Leuty, Musson, Walsh, Carter, Stamps, Doherty, Morrison.

While the official attendance was 48,466 at Roker Park, the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette reported many more were locked out – inexperienced turnstile operators and turnstiles that weren’t open the cause of the delays – and in reality the crowd in attendance numbered significantly more than the official recorded figure.

On the field, Sunderland made the perfect start after seven years absence, winning the game 3-2, a Burbanks penalty after Derby defender Howe was adjudged to handball, opened the scoring before Stamps equalised for Derby after good work from Carter and Doherty.

Two goals either side of half time by Cliff Whitelum gave Sunderland a 3-1 lead before Doherty pulled one back from the spot for Derby.

Football was back – and in spectacular style.

The Derby Daily Telegraph said:

In the most thrilling start to a season I can remember, the Roker Roar inspired the home team to pull out a little better than their best.

Judging by the way Sunderland tore in from the start the referee must have used the boxing formula “Shake hands and come out fighting” when the captains tossed for choice of ends. Derby reeled under the blows and were a goal down before they could recover.

The crowd-inspired Sunderland were a shade keener on the ball than Derby, and they won through readiness to snatch the chances in a gruelling game which was vigorous to the point of roughness.

Raich Carter, on his return to Roker, put in a hardworking 90 minutes, but ‘the sheer drudgery of it dulled the edge of his brilliance’.

Carter played more than 60 games for Derby over the next two seasons – finishing 14th in 1946-47 and 4th in 1947-48. And, while he didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet at Roker Park, he hit two goals in a 5-1 home win at the Baseball Ground later in the year, and four goals in another 5-1 home win the season after (incidentally, in Len Shackleton’s debut).

He was appointed player-manager of Hull in 1948, playing more than 100 times for the Tigers until hanging up his boots aged 39.

Undoubtedly there must have been a feeling of catching up on lost time.

Raich Carter and Don Revie - Boothferry Park
Hull player manager Raich Carter unveils new signing from Leicester, Don Revie.
Photo by PA/PA Images via Getty Images
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